On June 7th, 2021, Morocco, the US, and NATO began joint African Lion maritime drills in the Atlantic Ocean south of Morocco. This is a unique military cooperation between the three powers, which are all regarded by the United States as either competitors or antagonists. The military exercise is translated variously, yet, given that the Southern aquatic of Laayoune is an extremely sensitive waterway as it bonds to the Strait of Tarfaya, through which about a fifth of Africa’s trade corridors, the drill serves to sustain stability and security of the Moroccan Southern region along with a message that Spain is not isolated in foreign affairs. Last year, the Spanish meaninglessly pulled itself out of the “USAFRICOM” deal. Since then, waters around Spain have become the question of regional tension as the Kingdom of Morocco has cautioned the Spanish government against involving in Morocco’s Demarcation Maritimes borders.
However, as the strongest ally of Morocco, the US has sent two warships from its Atlantic Fleet – a frigate, a tanker, and a rescue tug boat – to take part in the drills, which were the first time being held in such a format. Now as America’s most important strategic partner, Morocco was also determined to join the training, as it sent a guided-missile warship to the naval drill. True, joint military exercise is a routine exchange with any other state since it is in line with related international laws and practices. But the naval drill of Morocco, the US, and NATO are sure to go beyond the normal military cooperation. Although Morocco claims that joint drill has no connection with regional situation, it affirms the will and capability of the three powers to jointly safeguard the peace and maritime security of the region and beyond.
As the two biggest alliance drills, The US and Morocco’s participation in the joint naval drills certainly signifies the emergence of a so-called “counter-coalition” to encounter the one that Algeria envisages creating. Some pessimistic reactions in Northern Africa have already tried to interpret this collaborative naval drill and their potential military cooperation as a threat to the peace and the balance of power in the region. The U.S. and its allies regularly hold joint military exercises all across the African continent at any given time of the year, which thus makes such occasions commonplace. Yet, France has mostly failed to promote peace and stability according to the resolution first approved by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Most other states, except Spain, have shown their interests or even worries that their participation in the U.S.-led Military drills in north Africa will only heighten tensions in this geo-strategic region.
In addition, the US and Morocco’s military ties with France and Israel are not secret anymore, with America opening up a Training drone institute in Morocco, Morocco making an arms deal with Washington following The Agency of International Trade (ITA) reported that sales of military equipment to Morocco more than doubled in 2020, and both US and Morocco having participated in important arms exhibition in the UAE. Due to this fact, it is bizarre to describe triple drills as being aimed against any third party when they’re really just a drill of what could be described as a part of normal diplomacy, or put it simply, seeking diplomatic means through military ends.
Strategically, Washington and Rabat are keen to prove their pragmatic strategy to the North African region en bloc. For instance, the US and Morocco are not taking sides in the African Sahel conflict. This pragmatic approach could even be moving to a higher level whenever Morocco and the US can urge all parties to resolve their disputes through political means instead of military ones. However, for Washington and Rabat, the probable risks are both geopolitical and economic because of the presumed division of labor between the two ally powers under which the US takes responsibility for security in the region while Morocco focuses on socio-economic development.
It is highlighted that the US and Morocco both intend to show their sophisticated strategic partnership to a larger scope. First of all, the triple maritime drills which are labeled “African Lion Marine Security ” are aimed at implementing regional order and stability. To this end, the entire exercises are being practiced: reducing terrorism perils, carrying out rescue operations, and defense against attacks from pirates. The purpose is to learn as much as possible, mainly when it comes to preserving the security of international trade in the strategic regions and share experience in maritime rescue operations. Consequently, the US, Morocco, and NATO have a responsibility to ensure the strategic regions together. Secondly, the joint naval drills secure regional stability and order persistent with the United Nations’ 1982 Convention. As per this convention and as signatories, the US and Morocco refused the unilateralist concept that France is the region’s dominant maritime power. Freedom of Navigation also mentions vessels flying the flag of these sovereign states shall not suffer meddling from the French navy at will. Therefore, under the 1982 Convention and Freedom of Navigation, NATO non-ally can hold naval drills with the US and Morocco for exercising cross-military coordination, willingness, and information gathering. As Moroccan News outlet argues that the drills likewise adhere to International Maritime Law by helping Morocco, the US, and NATO to enhance collective security. It’s completely fine with the three powers regarding the joint drills as core to their security, mainly if it uses maritime forces to prevent terrorism risks.
To sum up, Morocco and the US can have their formalities for the drills as well. France quests to repel Washington’s maximum pressure attitude. The maritime exercise helps to argue that the U.S. has failed to isolate France strategically and militarily among Maghreb region. The Kingdom of Morocco says regional security has to be provided by regional states. The joint drills are in line with the concept of North Africa’s collective security efforts. Additionally, Morocco depends on regional stability for its geostrategic approach. In truth, France has failed to apply a binary containment policy toward Morocco and US in the North Africa. It couldn’t hinder the presence and influence of their maritime forces towards the region. Then again, the joint naval exercises bring a counterbalance against the U.S. with a message that in the year of “African Lion” 2021 and beyond, the three powers would be able to involve in similar joint military drills if need to be.